There are different types of digital marketing agencies with varied core competencies. Many companies looking for the right digital marketing vendor don’t understand how to choose one that most fits their needs, I think for two reasons:
- The digital marketing industry still evolves so rapidly in the available software and technology that they don’t know how to evaluate the marketers or the tools that they are using.
- They don’t understand the complexities of setting up and managing an ongoing process of improvement in their digital marketing systems and practices. In reality it is very technical and requires a large amount of aptitude, determination and ongoing education.
There are so many digital marketing agencies that have popped up over the past few years and that goes to show that not only is it on the cutting edge of advertising and everyone wants to be in it but there continues to be brands that need help connecting to customers using technology. Because the digital industry is still young, clients don’t know what they don’t know and often the bar is set low primarily because a digital marketing agency can show extremely high traffic levels to a website compared to the subjective nature of traditional advertising. Data-driven, basic paid campaigns in Facebook or Google can gain a much more qualified visitor due to the contextual and behavioral advances of these software as well as very low cost per click, potentially $.50 – $10 based on the type of traffic targeted. But, in order to evaluate an agency’s success level and commitment to doing good work, these are the types of questions a client should be continually be asking:
- Is the targeted traffic the MOST qualified traffic that could be influenced for that specific channel or are there other channels that might be more qualified?
- Is the agency supporting the brand not just through its advertising but integrating well with the organic presence of that channel as well as the full marketing program?
- Is the tracking set up properly to compare channels against each other?
These are the better questions to be asking than ultimately comparing data-driven marketing campaigns with traditional media channels, just wanting a pretty website, or hoping that the systems work as expected internally? None of these point toward continually improving the influence of your reach and nurturing your leads, prospects, and clients.
In understanding which digital marketing agency is right for you, you need to be able to evaluate first, what you need, and then know the difference in the types of skills typical in a digital agency. When a brand needs help gleaning the full benefit of a digital marketing technology or social media channel, that’s where a digital agency can really help maximize your return. Most companies have challenges because they are looking for an agency with a very niche, specific set of criteria. For example, a company might have 3 to 5 software technologies that are currently being used but not to their fullest potential and they want an agency that has experience with all of these specialized programs. Also, technology aside, they want an agency to have experience in and understand the terminology and challenges of their particular industry. This type of specificity is not realistic. Instead, look for a digital agency that has specific core competencies that can translate to your specific set of problems which will help with a quicker learning curve. The agency can apply principles that they already know and use on a regular basis to influence your programs and provide the most benefit for your advertising dollar. The categories that are most important to distinguish between are as follows.
Digital Marketing Agency Specializing in Media Buying
These agencies typically understand the diverse channel mix available online and where to find the audience that matches your product or service’s demographic. In most cases they provide Paid Search, advertising in search engines, as a significant part of their offering and they should have a skilled team of technicians that supports tag management, tracking and reporting so that a company can evaluate their ongoing success. The main complement that I see would be Social Media Marketing, primarily for again, paid advertising. This would make sense, as a media buying agency your focus is on driving new paid traffic to the client’s website. Then, there are direct buys, programmatic, and third-party networks that you can tap into to compete with any discount sites or aggregated site that intend to be a one stop shop for specific industries, such as apartments.com in the commercial residential industry or priceline.com in the travel industry. Search Engine Optimization could be a complementary skill for a media buying agency but not always. The paid search keywords used and the competitive keyword analysis could benefit both a paid program and should help influence the ongoing content improvements to be found in Google’s organic algorithm results to continue the theme of driving traffic to a site and improving a company’s presence online. SEO skills have many levels of technical complexity and knowledge, though how well it is implemented is directly related to what platforms your client-facing website is built on in order to establish better indexability and accessibility in the search engines.
Digital Marketing Agency Specializing in On-Site Improvement
Some media buying agencies offer more in-depth optimization programs for the website itself. This could include user experience and landing page optimization or even SEO and content writing. In many cases, these skills are brought in-house primarily because of the collaboration it could afford them with developers as it makes sense for these groups to have direct access to that department. Many agencies that specialize in media buying might offer extensive landing page optimizations and custom landing page development due to the way Google’s ad experience (and cost) is improved when the ad relates to the landing page of the website that traffic is driven to. But in reality, many companies do not want to pay for specialized services that don’t directly relate to driving more traffic (and leads) to their website. It is a much harder sell. Ongoing on-site optimizations such as user experience and focused conversion funnel efforts are harder to assign a monetary value to, particularly in a lead generation program, and are reserved for companies that realize more value in seeing their click through rate and conversion rate increase by 1 to 2% at a time. It’s certainly beneficial for any company to clear up their message and make the call to action more purposeful, but some organizations aren’t interested in paying for it. Search Engine Optimization is more likely to be a part of an agency to support the ongoing searchability of a website and how it ranks for search queries in Google and keeping an eye on what the latest tactics are in Google’s search algorithm.
Digital Marketing Agency Specializing in Platform Development
This is the digital marketing agency that is first and foremost a website and web application development shop. This type of agency specializes in client-side coding, i.e. code that communicates with a server and back to the website, and typically also front-end coding, i.e. code that communicates with the browser what to show on the screen. There is also open-source software vs closed-source software, that essentially determines the type of programming languages and whether your agency leans toward a marketing-driven software company or an information technology company. The differences between the two are drastic and the ones that are most relevant for me as a true digital marketer are directly related to the level of data security needed and the speed at which the industry and the tools change. In my experience, when a company needs information technology support their primary interest is in maintaining secrecy, i.e. security. As a result, information technology is not a digital marketing driven organization primarily because marketing takes a back seat. As a side note, it is always best for the information technology, i.e. sensitive information, to stay separate from the marketing infrastructure as the two most often cause conflict and slow progress when trying to keep up with the speed of change in internet and client-facing software.
The Digital Marketing Agency With Creative Ideation
This is the closest relationship to the traditional advertising agency, the model comes up with branding initiatives and designs logos and traditional billboards and point of purchase materials. In the digital marketing world, a creative driven agency is driven more by defining the audience and identifying the platforms for communicating such as social media marketing channels like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. There could also be a complementary specialty in various format production such as standard display ads, dynamic display advertising, feed management, programmatic advertising, and front-end design with open-source development sometimes thrown in. This is typically focused toward maximizing the impact and creativity of the brand’s presence online. The creative ideation is focused on how they communicate resulting in a design-oriented and often a creative production emphasis.
The Digital Marketing Content-Driven Agency Or Other Off-Shoot Agency
There are a lot of hybrids that help brands connect with consumers via technology. As a result, you could place a content marketing agency in this category, often called inbound marketing, and also include an email marketing component. These are content-focused agencies primarily but there are quite a bit of specialty shops that could also add in SEO. I should also add, it’s common for all of the above digital agencies regardless of their core competency to work with and possibly write content at some level since ultimately, better communication is the goal of all marketing.
Digital Marketing Agency Conclusion
As the internet marketing world becomes more personalized, user-friendly and focused on the lifetime value of a client, it is more likely for digital marketing agencies and consultants to have a multi-disciplinarian mentality, at least more than one focus.